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December 2009, vol 5 no 4

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Jim Norton

 

Leafbursts

Gadom? Can’t find it on the map, it doesn’t appear on the road signs, and our taciturn driver is giving nothing away. Yet here we are, gathered in a soft dusk, exchanging welcomes exuberant and shy, familiar faces, forgotten names, fellow retreatants, a babble of tongues.

frantic guard dog
life at the end of his chain
very inviting

§

blue cedar
deepening to black
full moon

It finds us singly and in animated groups, pensive, lost in argument, tangled in discussion, gathering hurriedly or with mindful tread. In or out it finds us, threatening, inviting. It is time.

the mis-struck gong
faithfully strikes
the striker

Enter.

§

Can a week have passed – where did it go? Down to the village, perhaps it’s there. Spring a little later here, on the level fields a haze of green, daffodils have not yet flowered.

Apartments from the Soviet era squat beside crumbling brick barns, greying timber houses.

Implements in yards, little and large, things, each eloquent on its own, the broken and the useful, in rain and sunlight, idleness and labour, just as they are. Black soil of vegetable plots, turned and ready.

the sick cat
now into ginger fur
licks warm sun

One shop. The till-keeper’s minder enunciates on our behalf. Marl-bo-ro. A few villagers pass, skilled in the art of ignoring. One grizzled brave stops and would speak. Our “Dzien dobray” doesn’t get us far, and he has less of ours. Yet across the gap of language something arcs. Well met, strangers. Port traffic roars unstoppably past.

the old road
cobbles under tarmac
it too goes nowhere

§

Between sittings, hens. Every breed and seed of them, picking and pecking, clucking, erupting in clacking consternation, settling again. The crook-backed minder, he too clucks as he moves among them, scattering feed, giving and taking comfort. Keeper of secrets, he has outlived all.

Amassed in the barn, artlessly heaped, backlit by a high window, golden wonders.

§

Where are we? High ground to the north, rolling woodland and rough pasture, sandy swell of an ancient sea, curious horses. Reed-fringed ponds, cry of duck, deer and fox in the shadows, rumours of wild boar.
And who? Polens: people of the fields, Poland, a country that ceased to exist. Call me by my real name. Szcechin/Stettin. Contested identities, occupation, dispossession, disappearance, turn and turn about.

Stumble on the railway line, its dead-straightness a swathe of silence through birch and birdsong. Iron road of hope and fear. What dark-age traffic did it carry to camp or front, escape and exile? In every field a watchtower.

peace time
shell casings fall
from leafbursts

§

Pristine dawn. The guard dog off his chain ambles in Eden, nose wet with dew. Gallus in his apothecary’s hat gathers simples – can I say it like that – for his morning brew: stinging nettle and the bitter herb that heals.

kind cook
bent over a whetstone
treats his knives

After the feast, famine. Upwelling of wretchedness this morning. Will it ever? Ghosts in sunlight, shadows crystal cut. Look, when looking away brings greater pain. Breathe out. Dissolve.

the leaning candle
lends an air of wistfulness
to the stark shrine

§

Parting is in the air. And a story told.

her grief
in the telling
we all

Fish break the surface of the muddy willow pond. Dragonflies have hatched. A heron stands unmoved amid reflections.

the old jetty
its buckled planks invite
light feet

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